Jeanne Moreau: La Bitch Is Back

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Jeanne Moreau: La Bitch Is Back

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At the reception in the French Embassy on April 23 for the release of “Tout Truffaut”–a 14-film retrospective of the late François Truffaut’s oeuvre that opened earlier that day at the Film Forum–French actress Jeanne Moreau sat at a small round table with Truffaut’s on-screen alter ego, actor Jean-Pierre Léaud. They had flown in from Paris for the event; both sipped Perrier from wineglasses. A cluster of Francophones and cinema devotees formed an adoring circle around Truffaut’s most famous actors.

The young French woman who was translating for Mr. Léaud (Ms. Moreau speaks perfect English) found herself unable to contain her excitement about being so close to her heroine. “It’s Jeanne Moreau!” she squeaked. “I’ve seen her on stage. I’ve seen her films!” The woman, visibly trembling, seemed close to tears. One film critic standing nearby took one look at the diminutive Mr. Léaud and said, “It’s just like in Hollywood. They’re all midgets!”

On a large video screen at the front of the room, Richard Lorber, co-chairman of Winstar Cinema, the films’ distributor, introduced a pair of retrospective montages of the two actors’ work in Truffaut films. During Ms. Moreau’s segment, Mr. Léaud, who was sporting a longer version of the greasy mane of black hair he kept in films, stood up and tried to see the screen over the heads of the crowd. He maneuvered his head from side to side. He got on tiptoes. Still unable to see, he shrugged and sat back down.

After the clips, The Transom asked Ms. Moreau whether she ever watched her old performances. She took a drag from her long French Fine 120 cigarette and narrowed her eyes. “What for?” she asked in her husky French inflection. To refresh old memories, The Transom suggested. “What for?” she asked again, growing impatient. “I don’t know how you lead your life,” Ms. Moreau said, “but I get up at 7:00 in the morning and I work all day. And then, what, am I going to sit in front of a screen and watch my own films? What do you think?” She turned away.

She got up to pose in front of a poster of her seminal ménage à trois film, Jules et Jim , for Marion Curtis, the event-sanctioned photographer. Mr. Curtis scootched down to take the shot. “Young man,” protested Ms. Moreau, “why don’t you just lay on the floor and take it.” Mr. Curtis explained that he was trying to take the photo at eye level with Ms. Moreau while avoiding a reflection of his flash on the framed poster behind her. “Well, you’re certainly not at eye level with me,” said Ms. Moreau. Mr. Curtis snapped a couple of shots and walked away, rolling his eyes.

In the warm misty evening, a black limousine idled, waiting to shuttle the two stars downtown to the Film Forum where they would make a surprise appearance after the screening of The 400 Blows .

Ms. Moreau emerged from the stone edifice and pulled The Transom aside. The limo waited. “I’m sorry about the interview,” she said. The Transom told her that it was no biggie. “No, it is not all right. It is not all right!” she said, voice rising.

The French actress then decided to teach a lesson in journalism on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. “This is very moving and very disturbing, and you ask me whether I watch my films. My old films! Such a silly question. Are you aware of that?” Ms. Moreau demanded.

The Transom shook its head.

“Well, it is,” she snipped. “That’s the only question you have to ask me? I mean, I’m amazed! A question like that is amazing!”

Ms. Moreau added a final point to think about. “You can’t interview actors or artists, because your questions seem awkward. You can’t relate. You see what I mean?”

Head down, The Transom nodded.

“I don’t like interviews, I like conversations ,” Ms. Moreau explained. “So if you start an interview like that, I feel empty. I feel as though I was going to fall asleep. If you start a conversation, I’m interested.”

“So how was your flight?” The Transom asked.

A smile spread across her face. “My flight was great.”

First class?

“Not first class. Concorde.”

Party-hopping Francophile cineastes were having a gonzo week. The night before, in the grand salon upstairs at Maxim’s, the Fifth Avignon-New York Film Festival had kicked off its weeklong schedule of wine, cinema and questionable French delicacies like prunes stuffed with foie gras. While Yanna Avis, the French wife of rental car magnate Warren Avis, wailed French torch songs in the dining room, American director Michael Sergio was sweating up a storm near a row of steam tables. “Let’s go talk somewhere cooler,” said the director, who had a curly head of gray hair and the approximate dimensions of a refrigerator box. Mr. Sergio was feeling superstitious since his “light drug, light mob, light street theme” film, Under Hellgate Bridge –featuring Sopranos stars Dominic Chianese and Vincent Pastore–was the first of the festival’s films to sell out. “It gives me the willies. I wouldn’t mind being the third or the fourth,” he said, mopping his soaking brow with a pile of cocktail napkins.

Things were going so well that Mr. Sergio realized that he would have to make some sacrifices to accommodate all the film distributors who wanted to see his movie. Danny Aiello had called him, and he didn’t even know if he’d be able to squeak the actor into the April 26 screening at the Alliance Française. “My father’s booted. My brother’s going next. My son after that,” he said.

Although Mr. Sergio played a bodyguard on the soap opera Loving , sang for 20 years at the now-shuttered Improv nightclub, and won an Emmy Award for directing a television special about the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, he is best known as the yahoo who was imprisoned for 21 days after he parachuted into Shea Stadium during the 1986 World Series, a “Go Mets” banner trailing from his back. “It’s kind of a sensitive issue for Mike,” explained Hellgate co-producer Isil Bagdadi while the New York 1 cable network interviewed Mr. Sergio across the room. “Now, he’s a filmmaker. Now it’s all about the movie.”

–Andrew Goldman

Baldwin at Yale

Actor-turned-activist Alec Baldwin wowed Yalies in New Haven on April 17 at a labor teach-in organized by graduate student teaching assistants who are trying to form a union.

Mr. Baldwin’s student escort giggled with friends outside the Yale Law School classroom, having ushered the actor inside for his panel discussion, “Media Concentration and the Work of Art,” whispering, “He has no idea he’s about to get bashed” by angry student activists.

But, perhaps because of Mr. Baldwin’s upturned trench coat collar, Ray-Ban sunglasses and candidate-red tie, any scholarly dissent gave way to celebrity-induced jaw-dropping. The actor’s voice virtually drowned out fellow panelists Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper’s , and Prof. Mark Crispin Miller of New York University.

The Yale students seemed won over by Mr. Baldwin’s sympathy with the labor cause. Proudly describing his refusal to use an EZ Pass on tollways in order to preserve a union job for the teller attendant, he said, “I’m, like, I’m such a schmuck. I’m like driving through the toll, I’m handing the money to some guy I don’t even know, and I’m like, you know, ‘Solidarity, man!'” Mr. Baldwin boomed with clenched fist upraised. “No EZ Pass for me, baby!” The crowd ate it up.

However, Mr. Baldwin’s labor credibility is less than spotless considering his sponsorship of a Boys’ Town of Italy Man of the Year award given to restaurateur Arrigo Cipriani at the Waldorf-Astoria in March. In January, Mr. Cipriani came under fire for refusing to hire union employees at the Rainbow Room.

Contacted by The Transom, Mr. Baldwin said he had been unaware that Mr. Cipriani would be honored by the Italian-American group when he agreed to lend his name. Mr. Baldwin said he didn’t know if he would have endorsed Mr. Cipriani’s award if he’d known in advance, but he said he’d “certainly ask next time” who was being honored. In any case, he said, he wasn’t at the Yale conference as a labor spokesman but because Mr. Lapham had asked him to speak about media consolidation.

Speaking of Mr. Lapham, one audience member had attempted to steer the panel proceedings back to more highbrow concerns by asking the Harper’s editor, “Do you have a social analysis of the times we’re living in now, and if so, what is it?” Unfortunately, Mr. Lapham didn’t give the crowd the kind of instant gratification that Mr. Baldwin had delivered. “I can give you a list of books to read,” Mr. Lapham shrugged.

–Caroline C. Pam

The Transom Also Hears

… When former Police Commissioner William Bratton and his betrothed, attorney and Court TV anchor Rikki Klieman, get hitched on April 30, they will forgo one of the usual traditions of New York power marriages: a prenuptial agreement. Ms. Klieman and Mr. Bratton were overheard telling friends about their legally unfettered wedding plans as they dined at the Indian restaurant Nirvana on Central Park South recently. Ms. Klieman was even overheard saying something about getting married for love, not money. Could that be?

Jeanne Moreau: La Bitch Is Back